I covered the comedy at Latitude last weekend (check it out here and be prepared to get blown sideways out of your own trousers) and picked up some tips for reporting on festivals. Mainly because I made loads of mistakes that you can now learn from.
NB: if you’re writing for someone, whether it’s paid freelancing for a fancy mag or the odd free review for a little site with no budget, you’ll probably be able to get press tickets to a festival. So next time you’re desperate for a ticket, but can’t afford it, pitch to the editor.
Arrange interviews well before the festival
So on the Friday morning feeling excellent after watching Craig Charles from Red Dwarf DJ until 3am (he was amazing), I was in the press tent calling PR contacts for anyone and everyone. Most of the people I called either a) answered and rejected me, b) didn’t answer or c) were on the customer service desk in a Sainsbury’s in Peterborough. Stupidly, I figured I could just wander backstage and get some classic quotes from celebrities but didn’t factor in that the press wristband wouldn’t get me backstage access and everyone important would already have sorted out their interviews. No, I didn’t get any interviews in case you were wondering.
Camp as close to the press tent as possible. Then mine that press tent for all it’s worth.
OK, I actually did do this. It’s important to pitch close to the press tent, not only for the free bottles of water and odd free actual drinks (as well as free show timetables because, at Latitude at least, the programme cost £10), but also for the PLUG SOCKETS. Getting up and charging your phone at 9.30am before everything kicks off feels so much worse when you have to walk for half an hour in order to do it. Oh, and make sure you find out when those free drinks are happening and bring a roomie yet inconspicuous bag they can accidentally drop into.
Bring a dictaphone
For all your good intentions, and all your mornings spent in the press tent charging your phone, the bastard will undoubtedly die just as you’ve spotted Dylan Moran coming out of the arena after his mega-brilliant set. And those ten seconds spent trying to turn it back on will be crucial; by the time you’ve confirmed it really is dead and reached for your notepad, he’ll have vanished. Leaving you with nothing but a notepad covered in tears.
Gossip with everybody
Last year a sketch troupe insulted quite a big standup comedian during a show I was watching, but I found out later – from talking to some drunk people waiting for donuts – that the aforementioned comedian had then mouthed off about them outside the venue. Instant story, and I hadn’t even got in anyone’s face and been told to get stuffed! These little behind-the-scenes (ish) anecdotes add colour and make the reader feel like they were really there, babe. Checking twitter is also a good plan – acts often tweet backstage nuggets that you can then refer to in the piece to give it a wider context.
Don’t pretend you’ve seen something when you haven’t
I didn’t do this (no, I really didn’t!) but of course it crossed my mind when I forgot to see a fairly important show because I was having a nap. But what happens if, during that particular show, the lead singer loses his voice or walks off stage or DIES and nobody tweets about it because their phones are all dead? You’ll look mad and your editor will question whether you were even there, that’s what.
Write as you go
Every year I say I’ll do this, and I get too distracted by having a bloody great time. I do, however, make notes of the things I’ve seen along with some key words so when it comes to writing it up, I don’t draw a blank and end up lying about what I watched (see previous). Another good tip is to keep hold of the schedules – they act as good memory joggers.
Make a plan, stick to it, but enjoy yourself too
Each day highlight the most important slots (think variety: big names, interesting gigs and a few up-and-comers nobody will have heard of) but don’t cram so much in you don’t have time to experience the actual festival. The best reviews incorporate a few choice anecdotes that flesh the piece out and create a bit of atmosphere. Sure, my editor cut out a bit I wrote about hornets attacking the tents during dusk each night, but kept in a bit where I likened a bland comedian to an unexciting burrito I squirted down a woman’s back. People like a touch of colour.
This is why it’s important to plan each day as opposed to for the whole festival in one go – things will change, you’ll accidentally miss something or end up accidentally seeing loads of new bands on the Friday, meaning you’ll need to be in the main tents for the rest of the weekend etc etc etc. Don’t panic if there’s a clash; provided you’ve seen a variety of stuff, the review should come out fine.
Don’t love everything
I mean, slating people isn’t nice but there’s nothing worse than reading a review of a whole weekend where apparently nothing less than perfect occurred. A band will be boring. The weather will get a bit dodgy at one point. A sandwich will be over-expensive. Writing about how mind-bendingly incredible every second of every day felt will be disingenuous and a bit weird.
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